Open Source Image Analysis


There is a truck load of speculation and conflicting opinion online about the MH17 but this popped into my Twitter feed this morning from a number of people and I think it is worth a look

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Fascinating stuff

  1. tweckyspat says

    Very impressive work even if the blogger has an obvious agenda. It strikes me that the amount of open source imagery around this incident suggests there must be much much more available to the specialist agencies…which begs the question why is it being sat on ?

  2. sugarboat says

    Were the NATO AWAC’s not on patrol?

  3. Engineer Tom says

    This has been an interesting area of the media to watch in the last 2 years or so, how do you verify a photo or video circulating on twitter. Currently there are two different routes it is heading down, verifying the original uploader, this is a route the major news organisations were following and there are a couple of specialist company’s who have created a market in providing verified content to the media. This works fairly well in the US and Europe, but when you head into eastern Europe and the middle east it gets a bit iffy.
    The other route is verifying the content of the image or video, this has been pioneered mainly by bloggers and other citizen journalists. It came mainly out of the Syrian conflict where the images and videos were being provided by the rebels and government and neither is a reliable source. Without the resources of the news organisations this led bloggers to need to analysis the images they were seeing. Combining google earth with websites that show geotagged images it is possible to verify if the image is from where it is said to be from, using landmarks, road and tree layouts etc. This is being taken even further now around the MH17 incident with there being a handful of images from the day of a BUK launcher parked up or driving around in rebel areas, the shadows in the images are being analysed to calculate roughly the time of day each image was taken so they can try and track the movements of the launcher and also to work out whether it is a single launcher, or whether there were multiple launchers.

    From my following of this subject it seems to be more of an art than a science though it’s results are pretty accurate.

  4. Rocket Banana says

    Given the vid of the BUK launcher devoid of a missile or two that is also doing the rounds what is to say the Russians didn’t drive into Ukraine, launch the missile from the suggested site and then drive back into Russia?

    What difference does it make if the launch was done inside Ukraine territory?

    We need to get our hands on the BUK launcher vehicle by fair means or foul, do some forensic analysis and determine it as the “shooter”.

  5. All Politicians are the Same says

    Rusians are showing pictures now as well of Ukrainian BYK movements and even better some “radar Images” of wht they claim is an SU 25 Frogfoot that scrambled and was within 3-5km of MH17.
    I think we should ask the Ukrainians to do some performance updates for us as they somehow managed to get an Su25 that has a service ceiling of 23,000 feet clean and a max speed of mach 0.82 to intercept a 777 cruising at 33,000 feet and mach 0.84 and did so whilst carrying missiles :)

  6. Engineer Tom says

    @ APATS

    I googled that as well, made me wonder how the Russians didn’t do that Maths themselves, the Ukrainian Airforce has plenty of fighters that could get up to 15-20km so surely they would have used them.

  7. Nick says


    its quite amusing. I don’t think they actually say anything really, but the “fact” that they plane was there “at about the same time” (I think that was the wording they used) is used to show the Ukrainian government lied and that therefore there entire account is a lie. They don’t bother addressing anything that doesn’t tie into there message.

    Classic propaganda technique. Its a shame none of our media is able to point out the Su-25 service ceiling or that it would be carrying air to ground munitions.

  8. Hohum says

    If you follow the right people on twitter, including some very well respected individuals, it is clear that the evidence this was done by the rebels is overwhelming.

  9. colky7 says

    From regularly reading the comments on this site its clear that most oft he regulars are a good deal more knowledgable on defence matters than myself, so I’m far from any type of expert. However reading about the SU-25 story mentioned by others above in this morning’s Times, I was shocked none of their defence ‘experts’/correspondents even questioned that story’s technical credibility. The first thing i thought was why none of them questioned it for the reasons APATS (and a few others I could mention) outlined above. Why then didn’t any of paper’s defence correspondents?
    Its not an isolated incident either, I’ve recently noticed how poor the level of accuracy in defence reporting is amongst even the more traditionally reliable UK media outlets. If even I feel i could do a better job as a defence correspondent, surely there are others here who are most definitely better qualified! I’d imagine it would be a fairly well paid role as well? Anyone fancy it?! Would be nice to see some accurate mainstream defence journalism in the papers…

  10. Think Defence says

    Eh, lets have enough of that talk

    If the mainstream media were any good (and by good I mean regular features on containers and bridges) why would people bother to come here!!!

  11. Engineer Tom says

    This is why one of the most respected experts on weapons in Syria, was an unemployed guy in Leceister who started a blog three years ago, he actually put the time into researching the weapons systems and the media now goes to him for information.

  12. tweckyspat says

    Neither NATO nor UK E3Ds would be anywhere able to cover east ukraine with its sensors I would have thought… but I am no E3 expert !

  13. WiseApe says

    I have a general rule of thumb – if it’s on RT News, or in the Daily Mail – it’s bollocks.

    I suspect the Russians are trying to establish the presence of a military aircraft in the area of MH17 as a prelude to claiming the missile was fired at a legitimate target but unfortunately locked onto the wrong target.

    Edit: At school, this was known as “getting your excuses in early.”

  14. Observer says

    colky, this is hardly only limited to defence matters, newscasters and writers have their degree in Media and Communication, not Military or Medical. Some of the nonsense I’ve seen when I did my degree in Molecular Biology (Genetics in common parlance) was really hair pulling nonsense that would have resulted in a earful by a lecturer or a failing grade if you ever put it in an exam paper.

    Writers are not subject experts and care should be taken to see that what they wrote stands up or are but figments of their imagination or misunderstanding.

    Sometimes, I really think that “genetics” is the modern day society’s “black magic”. Toss in Adenine, Thymine Guanine in a pot, stir and out pops a dress and car that you have to return by midnight.

    You have no idea how hair pulling it is to correct all the misunderstandings that ignorant newscasters create.

  15. TED says

    Why is the information POSSIBLY being sat on? Want to rethink that comment?

    Maybe because we dont want the Russians to know we are watching all of their SA11s closely or can detect the launches. :)

    Why don’t GCHQ tell us how the catch terrorists?

  16. Thornton Reed says

    I must admit that I also find it odd that the US aren’t releasing the satellite data if it’s as conclusive as they say it is.
    The Russians will already know the paths of US satellites and that they will have been monitoring the area closely, so apart from the quality of the imagery i’m not sure how much there is to “give away” by publishing the photos.
    All the circumstantial evidence points to the rebels having fired the missile, why not settle the matter now with some actual facts?

  17. Observer says

    Thornton, because the US is a bureaucracy. And bureaucracies take time.

    I do suspect that they have the evidence and I also suspect how they did it, their old cold war satellites are designed to detect a nuclear weapon launch by detecting the thermal bloom of firing, and that basis does not change even if the weapon is a SAM instead of a nuke. So they would have the location of the launch area. Now it just depends on how much paperwork is there and how much the US bureaucracy feels safe in giving out. Career paper shufflers tend to be conservative.

  18. Chuck says

    It’s unlikely they actually have footage or images of the missile being fired. More likely a time and location of a IR bloom detected by satellite. Bit more info and some links here

    More than likely the data is a text readout; lat, long, time, bloom type; kind of deal. Satellite photo reconnaissance is in massive demand for the GWOT the chance of a bird with clear line of sight being in the right place at the right time is minuscule.

  19. Gloomy Northern Boy says

    @Chuck – Unless it could be tasked to keep an eye on a comparatively small area for a prolonged period as opposed to orbiting the planet in a fixed pattern with loads of others? In which case you might not choose to let on just how precisely you could steer the thing…

    No idea really, but the thought occurs to me.


  20. Observer says

    Gloomy, aeronautics in space is a bit non intuitive, you can’t just slam on the brakes, orbital altitude is closely related to speed in orbit, so you can’t really “park” except in a specific special case. Lose speed = deorbit, speed up = climb to a higher orbit. Geo sync is a very rare balancing act where you punt the satellite far out enough that gravity is equal to the centrifugal force for a rotation around the earth at 24hrs and IIRC is pretty far out as opposed to the low orbit surveillance satellites, so you can’t use the low orbit satellites for monitoring a single spot unless you got a chain of them to hand off to. They “stop” above a certain spot, they fall out of orbit.

  21. Gloomy Northern Boy says

    @Observer – As you say…so if somebody had figured out a way to do it, they would be treating the secret much as we treated the Enigma Machine, would they not? :-)

    Not for a moment suggesting they have, so much as musing about why serious intelligence is rarely if ever published, especially not to win a PR exchange…


  22. Chuck says

    X37B can do those kinds of things due to carrying loads of fuel. The big limiter on moving sats around. I don’t think it’s up at the moment though. Monitoring the whole of eastern Ukraine 24/7 would take most of the US sat fleet and greatly shorten their useful lives, due to fuel burn and of course require pulling them off all other tasking.

    Getting some kind of drone style clear video of the rebels shooting and the requisite before and after to show who it was where they went. Would realistically require foreknowledge and the good fortune of a clear sky.

    IR detection is certain, probably detecting the missile in flight and impact, those birds can detect arty firing they’re so sensitive. SAR watching the border wouldn’t surprise me. Same for Sigint, but don’t hold your breath for that gotcha! image of the missile leaving the launcher.

  23. Observer says

    Seriously, what is it with aircraft and crashes this year? Another plane just crashed in bad weather in Taiwan, about 50 dead. That makes it what, 6? this year alone?

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